Summer’s in full swing. And right about now your kids are probably itching to get away—if they haven’t been there and back already.
But what if a blowout vacay is just not in the cards this summer?
You’re in luck. We’ve assembled five totally awesome ways to spend a staycation this year and keep the kids super happy at home!
Of course, there are things you need to do to make this happen.
- Approach all the activities and events below just as you would a well-planned day on a spectacular getaway. Organize in advance, attend to details, talk the day up with the kids, and seek their input to boost excitement. Spontaneity’s great, but staycations work best when they’re not last-minute—when kids have time to absorb the idea, preview the day, and aren’t already too bored or too restless to enjoy anything.
- Clear your calendar of competing (non-vacay) events, and say no to cell phones, e-mails, texts, TV, screens in general, cooking, cleaning, shopping for food, laundry—and anything else you and your kids would not have to do on a five-star getaway.
- Pack as much as you can into each day, but aim for a balance between unadulterated fun, creativity, and opportunities for learning. Get out and start early. And no matter what you do, at the end of the day, treat yourselves like royalty. Cool sheets and turn-down service is an uber-refined touch. And don’t forget a surprise treat of your choice (rose petals or a late-night snack) artfully placed on the bed!
1. Embrace a day- or night-long challenge. Encourage your kids to use their staycation time wisely and ask them to nominate five or so out-of-the-box experiences they’d like to try. With the whole family on board, they can:
- master an outdoor skill (ride a bike, jump rope, play American Ninja Warrior) with only an occasional fall or error
- find a forest or a meadow to catch butterflies, bugs, and worms—and then release them
- snap pictures of things they like and create a video or JPG file of their finds
- cook and camp in your backyard, weather permitting, and explore the night sky for meteors and constellations
- join a family do-it-yourself wood workshop and learn to build something everyone will love or enjoy using
- spend the day outside: paddle a canoe, row a boat, plant shrubs, trees, grow fruits, harvest veggies, or become an expert on anything and everything that makes them happy.
2. Organize a carnival. Who needs the chaos of an outdoor fest when you can host an age-appropriate fair right there in your own yard—without the hassle? Heat up the grill, queue up the tunes, and while you flip the burgers and dogs, let the kids celebrate the day with friends and neighbors and a fun list of festival-like activities. Have a blast with face paint, neon hair spray, colorful gear (tie-dye shirts, bandanas, and shorts), temporary tattoos, bubbles and wands, and cool glow-in-the-dark necklaces and bracelets. Add games of chance and skill: pillowcase races, a beanbag toss, driveway tic-tac-toe, and milk-bottle bowling.
3. Take a train or bus to nowhere. Give new meaning to the words daily commute. Pack some supplies for the day (water, snacks, hand sanitizer, and so forth)—and then board a train or bus with your children. Hop off along the way (or go to the end of the line) to explore a new town or village, just as you would if you were sight-seeing in Europe. Scope out regions ahead of time. Look for things that make the place unique: a farmer’s market, ethnic or regional knick-knacks and snacks, a mall (to cool off), statues and plaques, historic landmarks, playgrounds, parks, ponds, places to paddle or row a boat, an arboretum, or a zoo. Later, treat the kids to lunch and an ice-cream soda at an outdoor café. Got a history buff in the crowd? Learn about the town’s first settlers and why they put down their roots there, the names of the founders, and how the first families made a living. Make a game of having the kids check out how the town, its people, streets, and the houses are different from what they’re used to—and in what ways they are similar.
4. Seek out the weird. Yep, it sounds like a stretch, but if you’re lucky enough to live near a kid-friendly museum (more on this in a bit), spend some time there. There’s plenty to do to fill a good half-day of a one-day staycation—and with museums’ play areas and interactive exhibits, they’re almost as much fun as amusement-park rides, minus the sticky hands and cotton candy. For kids, the quirkier the museum, the better. There’s the Worlds of Puppetry Museum in Atlanta, GA; the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC; the Museum of Miniature Houses in Carmel, IN; the International Banana Museum in Mecca, CA; and the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, PA, which is probably better for older kids because it is famous for unusual collections of anatomical specimens and antique medical devices. Even small museums closer to home can be inventive, interactive, and full of exhibits for adults and kids. Check this guide for children’s museum ideas.
5. Travel to another country. OK, not really. But if you plan it right, and you remain in character, you can reap many of the benefits of an overseas trip without flight delays, jet lag, and the high cost of destination pricing. Let your kids decide which country they’d like to “visit.” Then encourage them to dedicate the day to living like local kids. They can rise to a no-fuss Brazilian breakfast: cheese bread (pão de queijo), granola with milk or yogurt, or even breakfast cakes made with a little sugar and no frosting. Pepper your conversation with Brazilian phrases (bom Dia means “good morning”); add more phrases as the day goes on. Feast on bauru (a roast-beef sandwich with mozzarella cheese, tomato, and pickled cucumber) for lunch or misto quente (a ham-and-cheese sandwich) for dinner. Ditch routine attire for bold, colorful, and slim-cut clothing that Brazilians wear. Head outdoors for a friendly soccer game or practice one or two moves in capoeira—Afro-Brazilian martial arts. When the kids get tired, let them rest; foreign travel can be exhausting. But your trip is now a learning experiences and an adventure!